Yesterday our state's Police Chief's Council came out against the repeal of the death penalty, seeming aggrieved that anyone would even have the stones to raise the issue.
My first reaction was wonder exactly when the people we hire to run our police forces got the idea that while in uniform they had the right (they'd say "responsibility") to lobby publicly for or against the laws that they are sworn to enforce.
Think about it for a moment. When the debate raged over women in combat, or gays in the military, service members not called to testify before Congress knew that they had no authority to stand up and speak as representatives of the military for or against the question.
Think about the people who criticized (in some cases rightly so, in other cases by whining about it) the teachers in Wisconsin who spent school days protesting the governor, or--in Delaware's case--the teachers who trooped their charter school students to The Green to lobby the legislature.
I really do hope that all the police chiefs in attendance yesterday took personal leave, and that none of our municipalities paid them to go to Dover and lobby. I also know that no local media is going to check.
But that's beside the death penalty question itself. There are many good reasons to oppose the death penalty, and a lot of specious arguments to support it.
The "deterrence" argument is particularly weak, for two reasons. (1) Nobody ever believes "they" are going to get caught if the killing is calculated, and if the killing is done in rage nobody cares; (2) the point of punishments is justice toward the individual who committed a crime, not PR value.
The "fairness" argument is also so weak that the police chiefs should be embarrassed to cite it. They use the case of Office Chad Spicer and ask if it's fair to his family who will never have him back to have the killer serve a life sentence. NOTHING is fair to the family who lost someone to murder, and here is an unpalatable truth: a police officer's life is not worth inherently more that the life of a young African-American man shot in Wilmington or the governor's scheduling secretary. Murder is murder, and to raise certain lives above the rest is (whether intended or not) to denigrate the rest.
Besides, El Somnambulo at Delaware Liberal tackled the fairness argument quite well yesterday. With respect to the death penalty it is not so much discrimination by race, but discrimination by wealth:
In the past, I have been an agnostic when it came to the issue of the death penalty. But when I saw Thomas Capano, who carried out one of the most vile and grisly homicides/cover-ups in Delaware history, escape the death penalty (though not death) through legal legerdemain, my decision was made for me. The Tom Capanos of this world don’t get the death penalty. Therefore, those with less influence shouldn’t, either. Any death penalty statute should be administered equally, not on the basis of the (lack of) legal resources that one has at their disposal, IMHO. It’s not, it never has been, and it should go.
I note that police of virtually all stripes have aligned in near-unanimity in opposition. Need I remind you or them that, thanks to DNA projects all over this country, death row inhabitants are being cleared of homicide convictions, often caused by ‘thin blue line’ corruption and/or ineptitude? Yeah, yeah, I know, not in Delaware. Really? How can you be certain?
This is a courageous stand by the sponsors. In case you haven’t noticed, police are a potent political force in this state. Legislators, in general, prefer to take the path of least political resistance. They haven’t done that here, and I thank them. By name: Senators Peterson, Simpson, McDowell, Bushweller, Henry, Sokola, and Townsend; Reps. Scott, Miro, Barbieri, Baumbach, Keeley, Potter, M. Smith, Williams, Kowalko, B. Short. Thank you.And in case I haven't made it clear, I support ALL the legislators so far standing up for this bill, Democrat or Republican. In particular I do not often have much good to say about Representative John Kowalko, but I will give him his due on this issue.
Somewhere in Lucifer's Hammer, the post-apocalyptic novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, they have a character make the point that "societies have the ethics they can afford." If we did not have the financial and technical capability to keep murderers in prison for life, then we'd have to keep using the death penalty as an issue of public safety. But that's not the case. We have the largest incarcerated population per capita in all of the world's major countries, and well over half of those are non-violent drug offenders. If it comes down to that, I'm perfectly willing to let a lot of college students and rednecks who toked up or did a line go free to keep Chad Spicer's murderer in prison for the rest of his life.
Call your legislators. Get our State out of the business of executing people, particularly the people who cannot afford the best attorneys.